Oh, for a great cup


Carl Dodge, roastmaster at M.E. Swing Co., stands watch by an enormous Probat coffee roaster. A mechanical arm rakes through 100 pounds of beans; each batch takes about 15 minutes. Elsewhere in the South Pickett Street facility, workers bag coffee by hand. Burlap sacks of beans lay in neat stacks.

Mark Warmuth, president of the company, approaches Dodge. They throw around phrases like first crack, degassing, color profile. These are men who know coffee.

M.E. Swing Co. was founded almost a century ago in downtown Washington, D.C. In 1989, fire code and annoyed neighbors forced the company to move its roasting operations outside the city. Believe it or not, not everybody likes the smell of roasted coffee, Warmuth said. The company set up their roasting shop in Alexandria, where theyve remained to this day.

One thing that sets specialty coffee retailers like Swing apart is cupping, a standardized procedure that experts use to quantify aspects of a coffees taste and aroma. The Specialty Coffee Association of America provides a flavor wheel that tells you how to describe what youre drinking, which youll need, because there are more words to describe coffee than there are for wine. Your coffee can be fruity, spicy or delicate, but it can also taste horsey, sweaty, or like wet cardboard.

Warmuth deadpans, Theres a dark side to the coffee business, as well.

Really, everything from the beans origin to the type of coffee maker affects taste. How do you get a perfect cup?

Theres no right or wrong answer, Warmuth said. Everyone likes a different cup. He recommends experimenting, but has some tips. First, avoid French roasts.

French roast is the darkest coffee there is … people are conditioned to think darker is better, [but] what youre doing is cooking the flavor out of the coffee. Warmuth recommends a lighter roast to taste more subtle flavor variations.

And dont store it in the freezer, warned Dodge.

But the best tip may come from Swings roasting room floor itself. There, where consistency and precision is stressed, beans are portioned into buckets with the appropriate measure Sharpied on the side.

Its an exact science, Warmuth said of coffee roasting, but theres art in it, too.

Follow your nose
M.E. Swing Co.
612-D South Pickett St.
Call ahead to place an order for pickup: 703-370-5050

MOMs/My Organic Market
3831 Mt. Vernon Ave.
MOMs sells organic coffee under their own label, as well as offering other organic and fair trade brands.

Mishas Coffeehouse and Coffee Roaster
102 South Patrick St.
Mishas roasts and bags their own beans as well. The most popular is Route 66, a French roast blend. Its composition is known to only two people the owner and the roaster.

Carafe Winemakers (Alexandria Times, Nov. 29, At Carafe, Put A Cork In It) is offering a wine pairing class this Monday, Dec. 10, at 6:30 p.m. For more information, call Carafe at 703-739-5850.